The obrajes in New Spain—cotton and woolen textile mills which produced cloth for everyday use in colonial society—were vigorous capitalistic enterprises which flourished in a feudal-mercantile environment. Linked initially with encomiendas and the repartimiento system of forced labor for wages, the obraje outlived these institutions. It resisted both royal labor legislation designed to promote the welfare of the Indian and Spanish mercantile restrictions aimed at limiting competition with the peninsular textile industry. Sweatshop working conditions prevailed throughout three centuries of Spanish domination in Mexico. Indian slavery, debt peonage, harsh treatment, child labor, and bad food, clothing, and shelter—all of these were characteristics of the Mexican colonial obraje. Concerted efforts to curb abuses in obrajes began in the 1560s and continued until 1805. But by the late sixteenth century the people of New Spain had come to depend on locally produced textiles, and as a consequence it became socially necessary for obrajes to operate outside the law. No matter how much humanitarian reformers and mercantile monopolists might complain, the royal government had to tolerate abuses, because obrajes were useful and necessary to the economy.1

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Cortés estate became a lucrative capitalistic enterprise in New Spain. Granted by Charles V to Fernando Cortés in 1529, after the Conqueror had ruled New Spain for almost a decade, the Marquesado del Valle included holdings in the central valley of Mexico, Cuernavaca, Cuautla, Toluca, the vast area of Oaxaca, and part of Tehuantepec. The Spanish king gave Cortés the lands and title to compensate for his loss of political and judicial power in New Spain as the audiencia of Mexico and the viceroyalty were created. In the Marquesado del Valle, Cortés held exclusive economic lordship as well as political and judicial authority.2 After Cortés died in 1547, his son Martín became the ruler of the estate until the abortive conspiracy against the crown in the 1560s. The Avila-Cortés conspiracy ended in 1567 with the sequestration of Martín Cortés’ property and the withdrawal of his political and legal jurisdiction.3 Later the economic control of the marquisate was restored to the Cortés family, but jurisdictional competency was withheld for several decades. By the 1590s the family managed to repair its fortunes by astute diplomacy and a carefully arranged marriage.

Don Fernando Cortés, third marqués and grandson of the Conqueror, preferred to live in Spain rather than Mexico. In August 1593 he received a wedding present from the crown: the restoration of full civil and criminal jurisdiction over the vast territory enjoyed by the grandfather and withdrawn from his father. He had been fortunate to marry Doña Mencia de la Cerda, lady-in-waiting to the Princess Isabella. The de la Cerdas had long served the Spanish monarchy, and at this time a relative was treasurer general of the court of Aragón. Out of gratitude for the services of Fernando’s grandfather, and those of Doña Mencia’s family, the king decreed that the marqués might make all appointments to office in the area of the marquisate and granted him full power to administer justice.4

The restitution of jurisdiction to the third marqués had severe repercussions on viceregal administration and on Indian policy. Doctor Gasco de Velasco summarized a few of the problems in a letter written to Philip II on behalf of the audiencia of Mexico and dated January 21, 1595.5 The fiscal counseled that legal possession of the new jurisdiction should be tendered the Cortés family only after some crucial questions had been resolved. He reported that the cédula of restitution had been presented to the audiencia, and that Oidor Juan de Fonseca had been dispatched to oversee the transfer of authority.

Gasco asked, however, that a second royal cédula spell out in more detail the extent of the marquesado with a meticulous delineation of the territory and royal authority. He charged that the marqués was already trying to assume jurisdiction over pueblos in the valley of Toluca which did not belong to the estate, and that he was embroiling the valley in a series of complicated litigations. Thus possessions of the crown were in danger of being usurped by the revitalized marquisate. The fiscal also called the king’s attention to the mines of Cuautla, perhaps the richest in central Mexico, where the marqués had dislodged miners and merchants and had monopolized Indian labor for his own use.

Gasco’s major objection to the instrument of restitution concerned Indian policy. The fiscal complained that a separate jurisdiction over Indians in the Cortés holdings prejudiced the enforcement of cédulas on Indian labor and tribute. He warned that the crown might lose control of the repartimiento in the marquesado. Also, since it had been announced that the marqués would not require Indians for forced labor on public works in his holdings, and hence had dismissed the royal repartimiento judges, many natives were migrating into the estate to escape the labor draft. This situation threatened to harm the royal treasury by diminishing tribute. Gasco de Velasco proposed a partial solution to the problem. He asked the king to give the marqués jurisdiction over Spaniards only and to reserve a corps of royal officials which could administer Indian justice in the marquesado. As an alternative he suggested that Indians might choose their judges in any specific instance, selecting either the bureaucracy of the marqués or viceregal officials.

Instead of implementing Gasco de Velasco’s recommendations, however, the king issued general rules for inspection of Indian labor conditions in all of New Spain, leaving it to the more audacious royal officials to enforce the regulations in the Cortés estate. This inarticulate policy produced one hundred years of conflict between the viceroys of Mexico and the Cortés administrators.

The clash of authority was particularly acute in obraje affairs. Immediately after the monarchy’s restoration of jurisdiction to the third marqués came the crusade of Viceroy Luis de Velasco II to bring the lawless obrajes under control. As the sixteenth century came to a close, the exploitation of the Indian in the textile mills had become an imperial scandal. In 1595 Velasco issued stern obraje ordinances, basing his action on reports made by his judge, Dr. Santiago del Riego, who had made a searching visitation of the obrajes. Riego’s comments were highly uncomplimentary, and he included the mills of the Cortés estate in his criticism.6

On the advice of the Council of the Indies the king issued a cédula in 1596, providing for viceregal inspection of obraje conditions, and had it proclaimed in all of the towns of the marquisate.7 Because the Cortés family refused to recognize the viceroy’s right to appoint inspectors for factories in its holdings, and owing to the reports of grave abuses there, the royal government ordered that obrajes in the marquisate were not exempted from the general visita in progress.8 Armed with this authority, Velasco in 1598 commissioned Vasco López de Vivero to conduct an investigation of all obrajes in Mexico City and within a ten-league radius, even though this area included the Cortés territory in Toluca, Coyoacán, and Tacubaya.9

Immediately Martín de Santa Cruz, governor and administrator of the Cortés estate, protested and petitioned for a revision of Vivero’s instructions to exclude areas of the Marquesado del Valle. Santa Cruz said the investigation was prejudicial to the marqués, particularly since the estate had already named visitors and judges for the obrajes many months before the Vivero patent. He pointed out that the previous administrator, Juan de Altamirano, had made obraje inspections in the marquisate before the restoration of civil and criminal jurisdiction in 1593.10

During the next several months a legal duel ensued before the audiencia of Mexico between Licenciado Diego López de Haro, representing the marqués, and Fiscal Diego Núñez Morquecho; each litigant accused the other of disobeying the royal will. When López de Haro maintained that the appointment of Vivero violated the powers entrusted to the marqués, the fiscal pointed to the cédula of 1596 and answered that royal authority was always superior to that of the king’s subjects.11 Obraje Judge Vivero contended that his visita in no way infringed upon the marqués’ power, and that the inspection was necessary to remedy long-standing abuses.12 López de Haro rejoined with the argument that the fiscal had misinterpreted the cédula of 1596 and that inspectors were to be appointed only if the marqués was guilty of negligence. This was not the case, he declared and referred to reports of visitadores appointed long before the present controversy.

In establishing the power of Governor Santa Cruz to appoint obraje judges, the Cortés attorney cited as evidence the governor’s commission and power of attorney from the marqués issued in Madrid, July 26, 1592.13 This document is one of the most minute and comprehensive statements of legal, political, and economic jurisdiction recorded in the history of the Spanish empire. The third marqués had probably cleared the contents with Doña Mencia’s family and the appropriate royal officials, and perhaps with Philip II himself, before the restoration of civil and criminal jurisdiction took place. It is no wonder that the audiencia of Mexico viewed this patent with respect and, on October 9, 1598, revoked the commission of Vasco López de Vivero.14 The viceroy appealed the action and asked for a new trial, but when the audiencia handed down its sentence of review on April 23, 1599, the viceregal government stood defeated.15 By June 1599 records of the proceedings were on their way to Spain, just two years before the monarch forbade all employment of Indians in obrajes, whether voluntary or forced.16

Because the government had initiated visitas while the jurisdictional dispute was raging and had sent investigators of obrajes into Toluca and elsewhere,17 the marquisate lawyers demanded from the audiencia a public revocation of López de Vivero’s authority to inspect labor conditions in the Cortés estate. This proclamation, dated May 17, 1602, was read throughout the central valley of Mexico, Cuernavaca, Cuautla, and Toluca.18

Velasco’s successor as viceroy, the Conde de Monterrey, continued to regulate obrajes. On July 20, 1599, he launched the famous “containment policy,” which commanded all obraje owners to move their factories into the four prescribed areas of Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Valladolid (Morelia) or close them entirely.19 The storm of protest and his inability to enforce the decree led to immediate exemptions, but the largest area of the Cortés estate, Oaxaca, remained one of the prescribed areas. In order to obtain freedom from viceregal regulation, many textile manufacturers moved their establishments into Oaxaca and into Cortés’ holdings in Coyoacán, Xochimilco, Tacubaya, and the valleys of Cuernavaca and Toluca.

The monumental cédula of Philip III on Indian labor, issued on November 24, 1601, continued the effort of the Hapsburg monarchs to limit and reform the obraje20 and barred Indian labor from textile mills except for obrajes de comunidad (obrajes owned and operated by Indians). The king recommended that Negro slaves replace the Indian worker in textile trades. Mexican colonists resisted the decree so strongly that it was never really enforced. Two years later the viceroy gave entrepreneurs a week to comply with the order (May 27, 1603),21 and eight years after the cédula on Indian labor, the king, on May 26, 1609, repeated his command that no obraje could operate outside of the four prescribed areas.22 This act of appeasement followed dire predictions by colonists that the provincial economies of the viceroyalty might well collapse and cloth shortages result, if the king failed to allow obrajes to use Indian labor where it was essential to the public good. In the same year the viceroy allowed the apprenticing of Indian boys in obraje labor and in other occupations, so that they might learn a useful trade. The apprentice system was molded by the obrajero to assure a continuous labor supply. While it obeyed the letter of the law, the spirit was violated.23

In the decade of 1618-1628, as the crown began to issue a whole series of economic decrees designed to limit the obraje, the attractiveness of locating textile mills in the Cortés estate grew. The renting or subinfeudation of obrajes was forbidden by the crown in 1618.24 At the same time it was decreed that voluntary labor contracts, or indentures, could not exceed one year.25 In 1621 Philip IV abolished encomienda obrajes and ordered an investigation of obraje licenses and the destruction of any factories not having them.26 Three years later he commanded the viceroys to suspend operations in all obrajes rather than permit the scandalous abuses to continue.27 Finally in 1628 power to issue new obraje licenses was taken from the viceroy and vested in the Council of the Indies. The viceroy was required to recommend new obraje permits by the Council.28 It was comforting to obrajeros, those who obeyed the letter of the law and those who did not, that the lawyers of the marquisate so zealously defended the legal and economic jurisdictions of the Cortés family from the viceregal encroachment.

Against this legal and institutional background, the disputes between the viceregal government and the Cortes estate over jurisdiction in obraje regulation take on important meaning. The Crown’s attempt to limit the obraje by restricting its labor supply was furiously resented by the emerging entrepreneur. Protection of Spanish textile manufacturers to the detriment of colonial ones led to an economic struggle in New Spain which spanned two centuries.29

Viceroy Velasco’s duel with the Cortés estate by no means ended the struggle. Nor did the viceregal government accept legal defeat in forcing reform among the textile mills in the marquisate. Fortified with the royal cédula on Indian labor of 1601, the Conde de Monterrey commissioned a judge on September 2, 1603, to investigate all factories and sugar mills of the Marquesado del Valle. Bartolomé de Esquivel y Sotomayor never completed the visita or filed his report because of the confused jurisdictional dispute. But the viceroy had made his point that the imperial government would carry on investigations when it deemed necessary.30

A calm period in the obraje struggle lasted until March 21, 1620, when Viceroy Guadalcázar named Antonio de Saavedra as juez de obrajes to investigate the whole area of Xochimilco, Coyoacán, and Tacubaya, as well as the environs of Mexico City within a five-league radius. In a separate order he empowered a judge for Toluca.31 Once again the marqués appealed the viceregal action, referring to the royal cédula of jurisdiction of 1593 and the audiencia’s decision of April 1599. The audiencia upheld the marqués’ jurisdiction again on September 11, 1624.32 When this happened, the viceroy’s attorney asked for a review sentence by the audiencia and started to appeal the decision to the Council of the Indies as well.

While the litigation was in progress, a new viceroy arrived. The Marqués de Cerralvo (1624-1635) was to usher in a final epoch of attempted obraje reform. His kinship to the king and his assertion of royal power in all realms of viceregal government led him into a celebrated dispute with the Cortés family over jurisdiction and obrajes. On December 26, 1625, Cerralvo boldly empowered Gregorio Romano Altamirano as juez veedor of all sugar mills and obrajes of the Marquesado del Valle. He ordered officers of the marqués to render the new juez veedor all assistance needed and declared that his salary of one thousand pesos de oro común was to be paid by the owners of the sugar mills and factories.33 Cerralvo ordered Romano Altamirano to start his tour immediately, enforce correct treatment of workers in obrajes and mills, and prevent illegal use of Indians in these establishments.

During early 1626, all along the route of the visita in Cuernavaca, Cuautla, and Yautepec, Romano Altamirano encountered obstructionist officials of the Marqués who questioned viceregal authority and prevented an effective inspection. The alcalde mayor of Cuernavaca, Francisco Martínez de Horduño, proved particularly obstreperous. At the same time that Romano Altamirano was in the field, the Cortés lawyers were filing their briefs. During the next few months Viceroy Cerralvo fought it out with Martínez de Horduño much as Velasco II had done in the late 1590s. A battle of cédulas and charges and counter-charges finally terminated on March 31, 1626, with a review sentence by the audiencia. The judges ruled that it was not an infringement on the marqués’ jurisdiction for the viceroy to appoint inspectors who might ascertain whether the king’s cédulas and ordinances were being observed in the obrajes of the marquisate. The audiencia repeatedly used the phrase “the Supreme Jurisdiction of His Majesty.” It confirmed that the marqués’ alcaldes mayores were to enforce obraje regulations in the first instance, and that it was the viceroy’s privilege to function as watch dog.34

Presumably the Cortés family took the jurisdictional argument to the king, but it is apparent that Cerralvo presented to his sovereign impressive evidence indicating the necessity for supervision of obrajes in the Cortés estate. This is clear from an important cédula on obrajes emanating from Madrid on July 3, 1627.35 In the decree the king took note of the fact that the 1609 cédula on Indian labor in obrajes had been ignored. Despite repeated commands that obrajes not operating in the public interest be suppressed, and that negro slaves replace Indians in the mills, provincial officials and textile manufacturers had done little to reform the system.

The king singled out specific abuses in the obrajes. Indians were locked in the buildings by foremen and not permitted to go home at night to see their wives and children. They were deceived into signing indentures for obraje service, and their indebtedness was increased once they were in the obraje.36 The king expostulated at some length on the evils of the justicias who recruited and condemned natives to the obrajes illegally, charging that their salaries came from the very blood of the Indians.37 To document his criticism of the local justices he pointed to the exorbitant salaries which they enjoyed, three to four thousand pesos yearly, while alcaldes of higher rank earned only ten percent of that figure. Since inspectors and judges of obrajes were supposed to be the most devout and honored men in the kingdom, they ought not to use their positions for personal aggrandizement. The monarch went on to say that these abuses were not confined to the lower hierarchy of colonial administrators in New Spain, but were also evident among oidores on the audiencia, other personnel of the courts, corregidores and alcaldes mayores, and officials of the royal treasury. Many of these persons used Indian labor in obrajes and other enterprises in violation of royal cédulas. Speaking of the clergy and their obrajes, the king used such phrases as “scandalous” and “very bad example,” and he charged religious superiors to remedy the situation. This severe reproof by an angry monarch ended with a reprimand to officials who had not enforced the licensing decrees of the 1620s and instructions that alcaldes mayores should make yearly reports on the obrajes.

By implication the king reprimanded both the viceregal government and the Cortés bureaucracy. His cédula seemed to confirm the principle that alcaldes mayores were responsible for supervising the obrajes whether in the marquisate or elsewhere in the viceroyalty of New Spain, but it made clear that regardless of jurisdictional disputes, the regulations must be enforced—if not by the provincial alcaldes mayores, then by special royal inspectors.

The audiencia of Mexico reacted to the decree on June 6, 1628, by informing all jurisdictions, including those of the marquisate, that the viceregal government might name inspectors and commissioners for obrajes at any time, particularly when it appeared that royal cédulas and ordinances were being violated.38 The bureaucracy of the marquisate promptly conducted inspections of obrajes and sugar mills, in order to forestall intervention by royal officials, and the alcaldes mayores were ordered to continue the practice. An example of this revivified supervision appears in the meticulous records filed by the alcalde mayor of Cuernavaca, Francisco Martínez de Horduño, who started the visitas on October 13, 1628.39 For each village and hacienda Martínez de Horduño certified that royal regulations were being obeyed and workers were well treated and adequately fed and that they had no complaints against their administrators and foremen. All of the certifications were duly witnessed. By December 15, 1628, Martínez had reported on all of the obrajes and mills in his jurisdiction.

While the viceroy found the inspectors’ reports on the marquisate encouraging, he was far from convinced that abuses had been remedied. By the opening years of the 1630s, Viceroy Cerralvo had appointed committees of “pious and learned persons” to study the obraje problem and to frame a new ordinance which would supersede all others. On May 10, 1633, Cerralvo promulgated his revised instruction.40 Henceforth the justicias or obraje judges were to share jurisdiction with the alcaldes mayores and the audiencia in all cases. Failure of the justicias to consult with superiors on matters concerning obrajes would result in a fine of one thousand pesos in the first instance, a four-year suspension from office for the second offense, and loss of position in addition to a stiff fine for a third infraction. The viceroy was to appoint a court of obraje appeals composed of four responsible officials who had demonstrated concern for Indian welfare. The decree prohibited any regidor from being an obrajero and provided that any obraje owner appointed to a judicial capacity should automatically lose his right to operate the factory. Cerralvo took particular care to see that familiares of the Inquisition (Inquisition police) were divested of obraje licenses.41

The officials of the Cortés estate were able to head off royal inspections for several decades by conducting visitas of obrajes through the alcalde mayor. But the viceregal government provoked other jurisdictional controversies during the years 1630 to 1637. Because one of the methods used by obrajeros to prolong the worker’s indenture was to sell pulque on credit, the Cerralvo administration appointed pulque judges throughout the viceroyalty and especially in the marquisate. The estate tried to block the inspections, claiming them to be yet another infringement on the Marqués’ authority42 and managed to reach an impasse in October 1637 after Pedro de Anuncarri, an agent of the marqués, protested the visitas of a pulque judge, Cristóbal Flores, to obrajes and mills in the Coyoacán area.43

It was not until the winter of 1660 that the royal government found adequate reason to send a special obraje investigator into the Cortés estate. During November and December of that year an oider, Dr. Andrés Sánchez de Ocampo, was commissioned to inspect six obrajes in the Coyoacán area.44 Edmundo O’Gorman has published and analyzed the records of the 1660 Coyoacán visita.45 His picture of five obrajes indicates that although conditions of the worker were reprehensible from a modern point of view, the owners and administrators were obeying the laws. The sixth obraje which Sánchez de Ocampo visited on November 12, 1660, however, provided a gruesome account of labor conditions. The obraje of Melchor Díaz de Posadas was almost a case study in all the evils of the system. The shackling of workers to their looms, beatings, intimidation, slavery of both men and women, importation of “chinos” from the Philippines as slaves— Sánchez de Ocampo details all of this and more in his report on the Díaz de Posadas obraje.

Eventually O’Gorman concluded that this obraje was atypical, but when he first read the document he said that he could almost see and hear the ferocious obrajero and his henchmen, whip in hand, beating the poor fifteen-year-old boy Frasquillo. The report related that four people held him while two beat him with clubs and gave him two hundred lashes on the calves of his legs. After this beating, the witnesses swore, the boy was doused with a bucket of cold water and then he was beaten again. Two days later he was found dead.46 The obraje owner was punished for reprehensible conduct; presumably the viceroy made an example of Díaz to show what could happen when obrajeros used jurisdictional ruses to circumvent the law.

On February 20, 1680, the Hapsburg monarchs made one last attempt to bring the obrajes under control. A royal cédula similar to the one of 1627 recapitulated the many abuses in textile mills and the failure of owners and colonial officials to comply with repeated commands that the system be reformed. The decree was more of an ominous threat than a regulatory statute, and it exemplified once again an attack on the obraje from mercantilist rather than humanitarian principles. The king demanded a complete report on the number and type of factories in operation, the number and kind of employees, whether or not obraje licenses existed for each shop, and viceregal opinion on what steps should be taken to end abuses. The cédula ended with crucial queries: Were obrajes really socially necessary in México ? And what harm would result to the economy if they were closed?47

Perhaps this cédula led the marquisate obrajes to a necessary rapprochement with viceregal authority. Whatever the case, in January 1685, Viceroy Portocarrero, the Conde de Paredes, appointed Oidor Juan de Arteaga to visit Coyoacán, Tacubaya, and Cuernavaca and see that Indians were not involuntarily forced into obrajes. The Cortés family made no objection to the visita. Perhaps the arrangement was acceptable because Arteaga was already the private judge of all civil and criminal matters in the marquisate. After this time it became customary for an oidor on the audiencia to hold the double portfolio of civil and criminal judge in the estate, as well as judge of obrajes, mills, and other establishments employing Indian labor.

Through this kind of appointment it was possible to combine jurisdictions and avoid disputes. On October 14, 1689, for example, Viceroy Conde de Gelves asked Arteaga to inspect the Coyoacán-Tacubaya area again, since there was abundant evidence of abuses in obrajes there.48 Documents of a 1693 visit of Arteaga to the obrajes of Mixcoac, in the Coyoacán province of the marquisate, show how seriously he took the responsibility.49 A searching investigation of the obraje of Pedro de Ávila in Mixcoac produced evidence that the inmates, both Indian and mestizo, were receiving good treatment. All except two of the workers were free to leave the obraje at the end of the day, and they were paid and fed according to the royal mandates. Their work contracts were in order. One Indian and one mestizo worker were incarcerated in the obraje as a result of tribute payments made for them by the owner. After declaring the indentures illegal, Dr. Arteaga ordered release of these two men.

The jurisdictional conflict between the viceregal government and the bureaucracy of the marquesado del Valle over the inspection of obrajes was finally resolved in a bitter struggle between 1701 and 1708. This controversy began with a plaintive call for help to the corregidor of Mexico City, Juan Diez de la Mora, by a mulatto obraje worker on November 22, 1701.50 Juan de Dios de los Reyes stated he had been assigned to the obraje of Captain Bartolomé Terreros because he could not pay his tribute. He claimed that he had someone to pay the money for him, but that on three or four occasions the money had been refused. He begged the corregidor to obtain his release. The obraje was located in Coyoacán within the marquisate, but because Terreros was a resident of Mexico City, Corregidor Diez de la Mora assumed jurisdiction and ordered Terreros to accept the money and to free the worker. On November 23, 1701, Terreros sarcastically refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the corregidor.

Diez de la Mora was so angered by the response that on November 24 he ordered Captain Terreros to present the mulatto in Mexico City within twenty-four hours, and to deposit two hundred pesos bond “without any excuses.” The order further stipulated that Terreros was to submit a complete list of his obraje employees along with legal contracts of employment, and as punishment for his indecorous language in answer to the summons, he was fined another hundred pesos. Terreros appealed the whole matter to the audiencia, maintaining that he was subject to the jurisdiction of the marquisate rather than to the viceroy. On November 26, 1701, the corregidor consulted with Viceroy Ortega Montáñez, who told Diez de la Mora to proceed with the case against Terreros because he was exploiting many poor people in his obraje, and because he had defied royal authority. By December 5, when the audiencia heard the evidence on both sides, a cause célebre had developed.

The alcalde mayor of Coyoacán was ordered to take testimony in the presence of Corregidor Diez de la Mora, and this evidence was brought before the audiencia. Josepha María, a free mulatto resident of Mexico City, testified on November 28, 1701, that her brother Antonio de los Santos had been indentured for one year in Terreros’ obraje for a debt of thirty-one pesos. The debt had been increased to forty-four pesos by the administrator. When the corregidor of Coyoacán learned that the brother had been so harshly treated and was starving, he was taken from the mill, but the owner of the obraje proceeded to have the invalid jailed in Coyoacán, saying “the law was on his side.” Josepha begged that her brother be brought to Mexico City and indentured in another obraje there until the debt was liquidated.

On the following day testimony of María Teresa, free mulatto wife of Antonio de Santa Cruz, added fuel to the fire. She related that her husband had been incarcerated for one year in the Terreros obraje suffering from ill treatment, hunger, and excessive work. The administrator had beaten him almost to death. To be sure, he was not forced to work while sick, but when he tried to leave the obraje, he was charged at the rate of four reals a day for work not done. She asked that he be released as a matter of justice.

Juan de Dios, who had started the controversy, testified in person on December 2. He declared that while he was absent from the obraje of Terreros in order to recover from illness, Terreros had ordered him arrested, even though he had a guarantor (fiador). He begged the officials to induce the captain to take the twenty-four pesos owed him and not to require Juan to return to that obraje because of the punishment and bad treatment which Terreros inflicted on all of the inmates.

On December 23, 1701, the audiencia ruled against the corregidor and the viceroy using as grounds the 1599 decision and new procedures for obraje inspection in the marquisate which had been instituted between 1680 and 1693. It remanded all the testimony to Oidor Fernando López de Ursino y Orbaneja, who was then the juez conservador of the Cortés estate, empowering him to deal privately with obrajes of the estate and to punish the excesses of Bartolomé Terreros.

During February and March 1702 Diez de la Mora prepared to appeal the decision to the Council of the Indies, and he asked for a review decision by the audiencia before taking this action. As private judge of matters relating to the Cortés estate, Oidor Ursino y Orbaneja made it clear that in his opinion inspectors of the marqués should have jurisdiction over obrajes, but it was desirable that they should act in conjunction with viceregal authority. Dr. Antonio Espinosa, the viceregal fiscal, concurred. Therefore, on March 2, 1702, it was decreed that the viceroy should name visitadores of obrajes in the marquisate. Since all high authorities seemed to agree in principle, the audiencia in its review of March 27 reprimanded obrajeros who resorted to jurisdictional subterfuge to violate the law, and ordered that a special visitor of obrajes for Coyoacán and the Cortés estate be appointed. Viceroy Ortega Montáñez then named Ursino y Orbaneja to that position on June 20, 1702.

Thus a tedious controversy over jurisdiction ended when both marqués and viceroy agreed to appoint the same man as obraje judge! This pattern was continued by the new viceroy, Francisco Fernández de la Cueva, the Duke of Albuquerque, when he named Lic. Miguel Calderón de la Barca as obraje judge in the marquisate on January 13, 1703. When this functionary retired as oidor and administrator of the estate, Viceroy Albuquerque designated his successor, Francisco de Valenzuela Venegas, as obraje judge there on April 23, 1708.

Between February and November 1702, Ursino y Orbaneja made a thorough investigation of Bartolomé Terreros’ obraje in Coyoacán and instituted important reforms. His successors did very creditable jobs protecting the Indians and trying to enforce the labor provisions of royal decrees both within the marquisate and throughout central Mexico. On the whole, conditions changed very little during the eighteenth century, but the reason was not jurisdictional subterfuges of factory owners. Instead during the last century of colonial history the Bourbon kings openly tolerated the obraje and its abuses. The textile mill had become a deeply entrenched microeconomic institution in New Spain.


For detailed treatment of the obraje in New Spain consult Manuel Carrera Stampa, “El obraje novohispano,” Memories de la Academia de la Historia, XX (1961), 148-171 and Richard E. Greenleaf, “The Obraje in the Late Mexican Colony,” The Americas, XXXII (January 1967), 227-250.


The most complete description of the economic and political organization of the Cortés estate from 1521 to 1547 is France V. Scholes, The Spanish Conqueror as a Business Man: A Chapter in the History of Fernando Cortés (Albuquerque, 1957).


For the conspiracy, its origin and aftermath, see Manuel Orozco y Berra, Noticia de la Conjuración del Marqués del Valle: años de 1565-1569 (México, 1953), and France V. Scholes and Eleanor B. Adams, (eds.), Cartas del Licenciado Jerónimo Valderrama y otros documentos sobre su visita al gobierno de Nueva España, 1563-1565 (México, 1961).


“Cédula de la restitución que Su Magestad hizo al Marqués del Valle de la jurisdicción de su Estado.” San Lorenzo, 11 de agosto de 1593. Archivo General de la Nación, México (hereinafter cited as AGN), Hospital de Jesús, Tomo 318, exp. 27, ramo 1.


Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla (hereinafter cited as AGI), Audiencia de Méjico, Tomo 71, fs. 12-19.


“Ordenanzas para los obrajes, México, 3 de octubre de 1595,“ AGN, Ordenanzas, Tomo IV, fs. 90-98 as reproduced in Silvio Zavala, Ordenanzas del trabajo, siglos XVI y XVII (México, 1947), 157-168. For the reports and criticisms of Dr. Santiago del Riego see AGI, Indiferente General, Tomo 2987.


“Cédula de su Magestad, Toledo, 25 de Mayo de 1596,” AGN, Hospital de Jesús, Tomo 318, exp. 27, ramo 3.


AGN, Hospital de Jesús, Tomo 318, exp. 27, ramo 6.


Ibid., ramo 4.


Ibid., ramo 7, “Certifica el secretario del Estado del Valle, haber nombrado el gobernador, de El Juez de Visitas de Obrajes situados en el dicho Estado.”


Ibid., ramo 4, “. . . la dicha visita no se le quita al Marqués la jurisdicción ... ni puede (El Marqués) impedir que su Magestad y sus Virreyes nombren jueces visitadores para los obrajes del distrito del dicho Marqués.”


Ibid., “. . . por lo mucho que importa para desagraviar los indios y su conservación que suelen estar o presos y detenidos en los dichos obrajes y maltratados.. . .”


Ibid., ramo 5.


Ibid., ramo 8.


Ibid., ramo 9.


Ibid., ramo 10.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1735, exp. 4.


AGN, Hospital de Jesús, Tomo 318, exp. 27, ramo 11.


AGN, Ordenanzas, Tomo IV, 98-100v, as reproduced in Zavala, Ordenanzas, 168-171.


“Ordenanza del Servicio Personal de 1601, Valladolid, 24 de noviembre de 1601,” Recopilación de leyes de los Reynos de las Indias (Madrid, 1681), Lib. VI, Tit. XIII, Ley 8. See also AGN, Ordenanzas, Tomo 2, 129-129v as reproduced in Zavala, Ordenanzas, 181-182.


AGN, Ordenanzas, Tomo II, 131-135, as reproduced in Zavala, Ordenanzas 182-189.


“Real Cédula sobre Repartimientos de Indios, Aranjuez, 26 de mayo de 1609,” as reproduced in Luis Chávez Orozco, El obraje: embrión de la fábrica (México, 1936), 31-42.


For data on the apprentice system and its abuses, see Greenleaf, “The Obraje in the Late Mexican Colony.”


Recopilación, Lib. IV, Tit. XXVI, Ley 6.


Ibid., Tit. XIII, Ley 13.


Ibid., Lib. VI, Tit. IX, Ley 18; Lib. IV, Tit. XXVI, Ley 2.


Ibid., Lib. IV, Tit. XXVI, Ley 5.


Ibid., Ley 1.


See AGN, Historia, Tomo 122, fs. 141-156, et passim; AGN, Civil, Tomo 1735, exp. 18; Lesley B. Simpson, The Repartimiento System of Native Labor in New Spain and Guatemala (Berkeley, 1938), 77.


AGN, Hospital de Jesús, Tomo 260, exp. 15.


Ibid., Tomo 318, exp. 25, ramo 3; and Ibid, exp. 27, ramo 2.


Ibid., exp. 25, ramo 3.


Ibid., ramo 4.


Ibid., ramo 4 bis.


Ibid., 5. This cédula was not published by Zavala in his Ordenanzas or in his other compendia on labor. The omission is crucial since the cédula provides the key to the framing of a new obraje policy in the Cortés estates.


“. . . y en cautivo se les prestan y anticipan dinero siendo su naturaleza tan flaca y de tan poca resistencia.”


“. . . por que sus costas y salarios vienen a salir de la sangre de los indios.”


AGN, Hospital de Jesús, Tomo 318, exp. 25, ramo 6.


Ibid., exp. 28.


AGN, Ordenanzas, Tomo 2, 313-316, as reproduced in Zavala, Ordenanzas, 195-199.


AGN, Civil, Tomo 1735, exp. 22.


AGN, Hospital de Jesús, Tomo 318, exp. 25, ramo 1.


Ibid., ramo 7.


“Autos y diligencias en orden a la visita de los obrajes y haciendas de la Villa de Coyoacán, 1660,” AGN, Historia, Tomo 117, exp. 11.


Edmundo O’Gorman, “El trabajo industrial en la Nueva España a mediados del siglo XVII: visita a los obrajes de paños en la jurisdicción de Coyoacán, 1660,” Boletín del Archivo General de la Nación, XI (1940), 33-116


Ibid., 38.


For the cédula see Chávez Orozco, El obraje, 46-49. A whole series of investigatory activities pursuant to the cédula are found in AGN, Civil, Tomo 1735, exps. 11, 12, 21.


AGN, Hospital de Jesús, Tomo 318, exp. 26, ramo 2.


Ibid., exp. 29.


Ibid., exp. 26.

Author notes


The author is Academic Vice President of the University of the Americas.